Gateway Gazette

Southern Alberta Wildfire summary – Oct 18 2017

RCMP, Southern Alberta – In the late afternoon and evening hours on October 17, several communities across southern Alberta were impacted by severe, fast moving wildfires which were driven by extremely high winds. RCMP officers conducted evacuations of 10 communities in 6 counties/municipal districts. Rural residences and farms in these counties were also evacuated in many areas. These evacuations were carried out by officers in eight different RCMP detachments working in partnership with local firefighters, peace officers and citizens.

At this time, a full assessment of the damages resulting from these fires has not yet been completed. “The events of yesterday are unprecedented. We have never had emergencies and evacuations affecting so many communities at once.” says RCMP Chief Superintendent Tony Hamori, Officer in Charge of Southern Alberta District. “ I am proud of the efforts of our RCMP officers and employees and I thank all of our community partners for their significant role in managing these fires.”

A summary of each RCMP detachment’s current emergency status is provided below.

Redcliff RCMP

At 12:52 pm, Redcliff RCMP were advised of a grass fire burning in Cypress County near Township Road 180, approximately 5 miles west of Highway 41. The fire moved rapidly eastbound and RCMP members were requested to assist with evacuating residents of Hilda and Schuller. Evacuees were directed to Medicine Hat.  The fire in Cypress County affecting the communities of Hilda and Schuler has now been extinguished. Residents evacuated from these two communities as well as the surrounding rural area we permitted to return on the morning of October 18. Four homes in rural Cypress county were lost to the fire

This fire continued east into Saskatchewan and impacted farms and communities in that province as well.

Gleichen RCMP

At approximately 5:45 pm, Gleichen RCMP received a report of a grassfire south of Highway 901 on the Siksika First Nation. Gliechen RCMP members and Siksika Fire Department evacuated several homes on the First Nation as the fire moved quickly to the northeast.

This fire blew into the Strathmore detachment area, leading to evacuations in Wheatland County before it moved further east and forced the evacuation of the town of Gleichen. Approximately 400 residents of Siksika and Gleichen were evacuated to reception centres at the Strathmore Civic Center and the Standard Community Hall.

The fires affecting Gleichen and Siksika Nation have been brought under control and residents have been permitted to return. Three houses on the Siksika Nation were destroyed by the fire and another was severely damaged. Another house had the roof blown off by the extreme winds.

Strathmore RCMP

Shortly after 6:00 pm, a grass fire originating in the Gleichen detachment area moved north into Wheatland County in the Strathmore detachment area. Residents in the area of Highway 817 and Highway 24 were evacuated.

A second fire occurred near Highway 901 and Range Road 264. Three rail cars on the CP rail line near the Carseland Agrium plant caught fire and the fire spread to surrounding dry grass. Residents in this area were also evacuated to the Strathmore Civic Center. In total, approximately 1200 citizens were evacuated from Carseland, Speargrass and Wheatland county

The train fire was contained and Strathmore RCMP officers were then re-deployed to assist with evacuating the town of Gleichen as the first wildfire moved towards that community.

Both fires in Wheatland County have now been extinguished and residents have returned home. Two homes in the Wheatland County were impacted by the fire.

Fort Macleod RCMP

At 8:00 pm , a rapidly moving grass fire was reported in the M.D. of Willow Creek, west of Fort Macleod. Approximately 40 Residents of the Hamlet of Moon River were evacuated to Fort Macleod. One home was damaged by the fire and several other small structures were also impacted. At approximately 11:00PM, the fire was brought under control and residents were able to return to their homes.

Oyen RCMP

At 4:50 pm, Oyen RCMP received a report of a fire in the MD of Acadia approximately 30km south of Oyen. The fire was driven extremely fast towards the Hamlet of Acadia Valley. A state of local emergency was declared and approximately 493 residents of Acadia Valley were evacuated. The fire then crossed over the South Saskatchewan River near Empress and forced the emergency evacuation of 135 Empress residents. Evacuees were sent to a reception centre at the Bindloss community hall.

During this event, extreme winds caused power outages in Oyen and the RCMP radio repeater station was damaged, resulting in a loss of all radio communications for officers conducting the evacuations. The members resorted to cell phones and computer messages car to car to complete the task at hand while still responding to other 911 calls. Several farms were lost in the fire and assessments are on-going.

Airdrie RCMP

At 4:15pm, a grass fire ignited just east of Highway 2 near the Balzac weigh scales. Incredibly strong winds forced the fired rapidly toward the Rockyview County neighborhood of Sharp Hill on the South East side of Airdrie. Airdrie RCMP and municipal enforcement conducted an emergency evacuation of Sharp Hill residents and crews from Airdrie, Rockyview and Calgary battled the fire. Approximately 60 residents were evacuated to Genesis Place where Airdrie RCMP Victim Services established a reception center. A total of 3 residences were impacted by the fire including one which was totally destroyed.

The fire was brought under control and residents were escorted back to their homes around midnight.

Crowsnest Pass RCMP

At approximately 3:30pm a grass fire ignited west of Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass. High winds and dry fuels moved the fire rapidly towards residences on the western edge of town. Mandatory evacuations were called for homes on Willow Drive, McLaren Ridge, Carbondale Trailer Court and MacGillivary Flats.

These areas remain under mandatory evacuation. The rest of the town of Coleman is under evacuation alert and the fire is still considered out of control at this time. Evacuees are being directed to the reception centre at the Vertical Church in Pincher Creek.

At this time, the fire emergencies have ended in all areas except the Crowsnest Pass. Additional RCMP resources are in place in Coleman to assist with ensuring public safety during the emergency.

An update will be provided on the Coleman evacuation when new information arises.

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Update 3: Southern Alberta wildfire situation

Alberta Government

Firefighting efforts continue in southern Alberta with a focus on safety.

This situation update is current as of 7 p.m. Visit Alberta Emergency Alerts for updates.

Current situation

One State of Local Emergency remains in effect, for the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass. Emergency declarations for Wheatland County and Medicine Hat have ended.

An evacuation order remains in place for parts of Crowsnest Pass where significant winds continue to have a concerning effect on the wildfire. The reception centre in Pincher Creek remains open.

Fire effects

  • An Alberta firefighter, James Hargrave, lost his life in performance of his duty. The Government of Alberta extends its deepest sympathies to his family, loved ones and colleagues.
  • A total of 14 homes have been reported lost across the province, including:
    • 2 in the Hamlet of Stobart.
    • 4 in the Hamlet of Gleichen.
    • 1 in Rockyview County.
    • 5 in Acadia Valley.
    • 2 on Siksika First Nation.
  • One barn and one garage were destroyed in Crowsnest Pass.
  • The Allison Creek Fish Hatchery in Crowsnest Pass has sustained no damage. The Raven Fish Hatchery near Caroline sustained wind damage to the roof.
  • These numbers may change as damage assessments are completed.

Wildfire activity

  • There is currently one wildfire of concern in the Forest Protection Area, west of Coleman in Crowsnest Pass. That fire covers a total of 106 hectares.
  • Wind warnings remain in effect for the southwest corner of the province.
  • Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has 25 wildland firefighters supporting local fire departments. Four helicopters and heavy equipment are also deployed.

Travel

  • Highway 3 from Coleman to the British Columbia border is now open; however, caution is urged while driving in that area.
  • Check 511 Alberta for up-to-date travel information.

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